Last week, as public anxiety over Ebola grew, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) issued a statement demanding that the White House withdraw Dr. Vivek Murthy’s nomination to be Surgeon General. “Now more than ever, our nation needs to have an experienced and effective Surgeon General to help coordinate the government’s Ebola strategy,” the GOP senator argued. “It has been clear for almost a year that the president’s nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is not the right person for this consequential job.
Except, it’s not “clear” at all.” Congressional Republicans seem to agree that it’s in the nation’s interests to have a Surgeon General, but they don’t want to take responsibility for derailing a qualified nominee. On the contrary, they now seem eager to blame President Obama for their knee-jerk obstructionism.
On “Meet the Press” yesterday, for example, Chuck Todd asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the vacancy in the Surgeon General’s office. “This seems to be politics,” the host noted. “The NRA said they were going to score the vote, and suddenly everybody’s frozen. That seems a little petty in hindsight, does it not?”
Blunt replied, “Well, you know, if the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly, then we should confirm them.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went even further during an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Do you think it would have helped … had there been a surgeon general in place to kind of calm what has become the fear of Ebola?CRUZ: Look – look, of course we should have a surgeon general in place. And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti- gun activist.
To hear the Texas Republican tell it, Dr. Vivek Murthy isn’t even a “health professional,” which is the exact opposite of reality.
Outside of far-right politics, the facts are not in dispute.
Murthy is an attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He’s also the founder of TrialNetworks, an Internet portal for clinical-trial operations that counts Merck and Biogen Idec as customers. Earlier, he helped start a rural community health program in Sringeri, India, and an HIV/AIDS youth education program in India and the United States. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Yale for medical and business degrees.
None other than George W. Bush’s former Surgeon General described Murthy as “superbly” qualified for the post, pointing to his “impressive track record of accomplishments.” The executive director of the American Public Health Association argued that Murthy is “clearly qualified to succeed” in all of the major roles of the Surgeon General.
When Cruz suggests Obama failed to nominate “a health professional,” the senator has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.
As for the Republican argument that Murthy is “an anti- gun activist,” again, reality proves otherwise. Murthy believes gun violence is a public-health issue – as do most medical professionals, including Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General – but it’s never been the principal focus of his work in medicine.
The nation has been without a Surgeon General for over a year, and it seems increasingly obvious that the vacancy is having a detrimental effect. No fair-minded observer could possibly question Murthy’s background or qualifications – his confirmation hearings were a breeze – but literally every Republican in the Senate refuses to even consider the doctor because the NRA told them not to.
Republicans own this. Blaming the president for their ridiculous antics might make the right feel better, but it’s nevertheless absurd.